CONWAY — Proud parents of two young children, Conway Public Library trustee David Paige and husband William Abbott, executive director of the non-profit Upper Saco Valley Land Trust, have built a marriage based on love and mutual respect for one another’s considerable talents in their respective fields.
David, 35, and William, 42, have been together 16 years, and married for 10.
“We were married on William’s family farm in California, under a huge oak tree that had been there for centuries,” said David.
“It was all very low-key, but perfect, with David’s family flying in from Maine, joining my family,” added William.
William’s sister, who had been able to obtain a one-day license, officiated.
They live in a stately home on West Side Road that was built in 1800 by one of David’s ancestors.
When they were living in California, where William hails from, the couple purchased the old family homestead in 2010.
Initially, they had intended to simply rent it out while continuing to live in California, with a goal of eventually someday retiring to Mount Washington Valley.
They did rent it out for two years. Then, fate intervened to push those plans to live in the home ahead of schedule by a few decades.
The change in plans occurred after the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust in 2011 advertised for its first ever executive director, a job that was right in William’s wheelhouse, as he was then conservation director of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County.
He applied and got the job.
They moved here in 2012 and now live near David’s uncle, graphics artist and author Bruce Kennett, brother of David’s mother, Lee Kennett Paige.
The extended family has gotten bigger. Today, David and William have two children: Orion, 4, and daughter, Wrenna, 2. To the kids, David is “Papa” and William is “Daddy.”
David can telecommute to his work as director of Libraries Unlimited, a division of ABC-Clio, a publishing company.
He’s also incoming president of a division of the Board of the American Library Association (ALA).
Both spouses work full-time, but with flexible work schedules that allow them to divide the parenting roles “pretty evenly,” William said.
They relish being involved in the Mount Washington Valley community, with David continuing the Kennett family’s involvement with the Conway Public Library and William pleased with the progress that the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust has made to protect and preserve land in the valley.
The group’s most notable project having been the preservation last year of the 436-acre Pine Hill Community Forest and the 90-acre Dr. Michael Cline Community Forest on Bald Hill in Albany.
USVLT has also worked with landowners, the U.S. Forest Service and the Granite Backcountry Alliance on the Maple Villa backcountry ski project in Intervale..
David and William met each other in Maine in 2003, where David was raised and where William was then working.
After moving to California, they registered there as domestic partners as same-sex marriage was not yet legal in the Golden State.
But then, in 2008, California allowed such marriages for a six-month span. David and William leaped at the chance, knowing that voters in November could vote to enact Proposition 8 — a state constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriages.
“As November approached, we knew that there was a chance that voters would outlaw same-sex marriage through Proposition 8. So we called our family and asked when they could come to a wedding in the next three weeks, and David’s folks came from Maine, and we had the wedding,” said William.
Their hunch proved to be correct: A week and a half later, voters did pass Proposition 8. It remained in effect through a series of court rulings and appeals that ultimately resulted in a decision that allowed same-sex marriages to be able to resume in 2013.
In between the rulings, existing marriages continued to be valid for couples such as David and William, who had already been wed.
But where is New England on gay marriage?
According to Wikipedia, on May 31, 2007, in the Granite State, then-Gov. John Lynch signed the civil unions bill into law, making New Hampshire “the first state to embrace same-sex unions without a court order or the threat of one.” The law took effect Jan. 1, 2008.
In Massachusetts, same-sex marriage had become legal on May 17, 2004, as a result of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that it was unconstitutional under the Massachusetts Constitution to allow only opposite-sex couples to marry.
In Maine, same-sex marriage has been legally recognized since December 29, 2012. A bill for the legalization of such marriages was approved by voters Nov. 6, 2012, and Maine, Maryland and Washington became the first U.S. states to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote.
Asked what marriage means to him, David replied: “It was meaningful to express that commitment in front of one another and to participate in that same institution that our own parents and friends had modeled for us."
William agreed. "My view is that domestic partnership was a huge triumph when it happened, and honestly, I was pretty content when we were domestic partners. But after we did get married, it registered with me that what we had been before, as domestic partners, was ‘separate and not equal;’ and that this was more.
“I was also pretty adamant that I felt that government should either get out of the marriage business altogether, or that they needed to be equitable with how they treated all couples with respect to that term ‘marriage,’” William added.
William said that to him, "marriage" means two very different things.
"One is a civic legal term recognized by local governments and now by the federal government; and the other was as a religious institution, and I didn’t want to fight the fight on religious grounds: for me, it was all about, if the government is going to decide to recognize marriage, they need to do so equitably, across all populations,” he said.
“So,” he concluded, “my argument was much more pragmatic and legalistic; and David’s was much more about family and traditions and emotions and love.”
In the decade they have been married, the two have seen public attitudes toward same-sex marriage change.
“I think there is generational change,” said William, to which David added, “I think that’s true, and it just being in the public eye for discussion has led to a change of hearts as well.
“I remember talking to a neighbor after the passage of Proposition 8 in California 10 years ago,” David continued, “and he had voted for Prop 8 because he felt threatened, that we were trying to undermine traditional marriage.
"I said, ‘Well, that’s what I want, too, a traditional marriage — I just want it with him (William)!’ He came to understand that, and, I think, regretted his initial vote. So, I think perceptions have changed,” David said.